Washington Coast
The outer Washington coast of the United States is a richly productive marine ecosystem home to many species of marine mammals, including beaked whales, killer whales, and several other odontocete, mysticete, and pinniped species. The Navy’s Quinault Underwater Tracking Range (QUTR) is located along the outer Washington coast and has been proposed for expansion (Federal Register, Vol. 68: 53599-53600, 11 September 2003) into deep water habitats used by beaked and sperm whales and south along the shelf where coastal cetaceans forage.
Objectives:
        (1) Evaluate the presence of odontocete and mysticete cetaceans based on the
             presence of vocalizations near the existing and expanded Quinault Underwater              Tracking Range (QUTR).
        (2) Conduct regular visual observations for marine mammals within the expanded QUTR.
        (3) Determine the relative abundance of mysticete and odontocete cetaceans in this              region using the combined visual and acoustic survey data sets.
        (4) Develop models of cetacean habitat using the visual and acoustic observations              together with remotely sense and mooring basesd oceanographic.
        In the late 1980s, extensive year-round aerial surveys were conducted along the Oregon and Washington coast (Green et al. 1992), yielding estimates of seasonal distribution for six species of cetacean, and notes on the occurrence of eight others. Since that time, cetacean surveys in this region have generally been limited to the summer and fall, including broad-scale visual and acoustic ship surveys (Barlow 1994, 2003) conducted by NOAA Fisheries, and fine-scale ship-based surveys along the northern Washington coast (Calambokidis et al. 2004) conducted by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. These surveys have provided some information on the seasonal distribution of 15 cetacean species; however, none have provided detailed information on the distribution of cetaceans within the Quinault range, nor have acoustic survey techniques been widely employed.
        In July of 2004, an acoustic and visual monitoring effort was initiated within the boundaries of the expanded QUTR and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary to characterize the vocalizations of species present in the area, to determine the year-round seasonal presence of all odontocete and mysticete whales, and to evaluate the distribution of cetaceans near the Navy range. Two High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages (HARPs) were deployed
The Navy’s existing Quinault Underwater Tracking Range and its proposed extension, along with the locations of on-going cetacean monitoring efforts with two High-frequency Acoustic Recording Packages, S1 and S2, and monthly visual surveys (solid line) from Westport harbor.
near the QUTR, one in deep water within Quinault Canyon (S1) and a second in inshore waters on the shelf (S2). In addition, visual surveys have been conducted monthly throughout the region. This project is conducted in collaboration with researchers at Cascadia Research Collective and with research permits from the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Results to Date:
        Acoustic recording effort with HARPs in this region has yielded excellent information on mysticete and delphinid presence in the region. For the first several years of this project we collected acoustic data at 80kHz sample rate, a rate adequate for all mysticetes and most odontocetes, with the exception of some beaked whales and porpoises. In 2007 we have increased the acoustic sample rate to 200 kHz to obtain adequate bandwidth for beaked whale monitoring. Beaked have been observed on three occasions near the shelf edge during the visual survey effort. Increasing acoustic recording bandwidth to monitor these species will also provide us with the ability to compare acoustic detection rates with those of the visual surveys.
        We now know the seasonal distribution of several cetacean species from the visual and acoustic data sets collected to date. These data sets have also begun to reveal some geographic relationships in cetacean presence, such that some species are more common at the offshore site, while others are more common inshore. The environmental conditions that govern these seasonal and geographic changes in species presence have been described to some extent by Green et al., (1992) and Calambokidis et al., (2004). In 2007, we will be examining correlations between cetacean presence and environmental variables measured from global satellites. These data are likely to offer the most consistent seasonal coverage of the region, with relatively consistent temporal resolution. Further examination of other selected oceanographic datasets will also be carried out; however, many of these data sets are limited in their spatial and temporal coverage of the region.
        Among the eight cetacean species acoustically identified to date, Pacific white-sided dolphins are the most commonly detected cetacean in this region, and are present through the entire study period. Classification of Risso’s dolphins and northern right whale dolphins is complicated by the high incidence of mixed-species groupsk in this region; however, both species have been identified within the acoustic data. Killer whales have also been identified on several occasions, with detected calls classified to population, indicating that Northern Resident, Southern Resident, Offshore, and West Coast Transient killer whales are present.

Recent Update (7/2007):
        We have just returned from the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary cetacean survey cruise aboard the NOAA vessel MacArthur II. During the cruise we successfully recovered both HARPs. These HARPs have been recording since April of this year and provide the first spring time data set for this project. We have redeployed the HARPs to sample at 200 kHz sample rate until July 2008.
        In addition to the HARP recovery, we conducted a line-transect cetacean survey with a towed hydrophone array. This 6-element array provided an independent method for detecting cetaceans near the vessel. We used the towed array on eight days and recorded several dozen cetacean groups. By far the most commonly detected cetacean was Pacific white-sided dolphins, though we also heard sperm whales, Northern right whale dolphins, and killer whales. In particular, we had a beautiful encounter with Offshore killer whales that resulted in several hours of acoustic recording of this rarely-encountered killer whale population.

Report:
        2007 QUTR Progress Report.pdf

Collaborators:
        Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and Cascadia Research Collective

Literature:
Barlow, J. 1994. Abundance of large whales in California coastal waters: a comparison of ship surveys in 1979/80 and in 1991. Reports of the International Whaling Commission SC/45/O 15.

Barlow, J. 2003. Preliminary estimates of the abundance of cetaceans along the U.S. West Coast: 1991-2001. Administrative Report LJ-03-03. 33 pp. Available from NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Administrative Report LJ-03-03.

Calambokidis, J., G.H. Steiger, D.K. Ellifrit, B.L. Troutman, and C.E. Bowlby. 2004. Distribution and abundance of humpback whales and other marine mammals off the northern Washington coast. Fisheries Bulletin 102: 563-580.

Green, G.A., J.J. Brueggeman, R.A. Grotenfendt, C.E. Bowlby, M.L. Bonnell, and K.C. Balcomb.1992. Cetacean distribution and abundance off Oregon and Washington, 1989-1990. pp. Available from Minerals Management Service Contract Report 14-12-0001-30426.
Back to top of page

Credit: John Hildebrand and Sean Wiggins